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Salute to age and scholarship

 

Ahead of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati’s 25th Aradhana on January 8, a look at Veda Pata Nidhi Trust he created for the welfare of old and indigent pundits

Veda Pata Nidhi Trust, which was launched 35 years ago, at the command of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, 68th Pitadipati of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitam, has made long strides touching the lives of thousands of Vedic scholars. N.C. Sarabeswaran, one of the Trustees, traces the beginning. “We know the background from Annadurai Iyengar, Vedic secretary for Periyava, who shared it later,” says Sarabeswaran. It was in 1983 soon after his Jayanti celebration that Mahaswami raised the question: “You have celebrated my jayanti with great fanfare. I have the Math and the people in it to look after me in my old age. What about all those Vedic pundits, who are old and more learned than me? They will be physically weak and cannot pursue activities with vigour. How will their work be recognised?”

Silence prevailed, until the Acharya spoke again. “Let’s start a Trust for this purpose — Veda Pata Nidhi Trust — with the aim of reaching out to indigent Vedic scholars,” he said. The only criterion was that the pundit should have mastered the Moolam of at least one Sakha of a Veda. Periyava entrusted the job to Annadurai Iyengar, who was his Vedic secretary, and a lawyer. What age would be appropriate? Periyava favoured two categories — 65-79 and those above 80.

A Trust needs a Chairman, president, etc. “Make T.S. Santhanam Founder, Nani Palkhivala Chairman and Sanat Mehta Trustee,” said the Acharya. Annadurai Iyengar was secretary. “By selecting these people, Periyava made sure that at least three regions of the land were represented,” points out Sarabeswaran. The amounts were fixed as Rs. 100 and Rs. 120 respectively. Periyava told Annadurai Iyengar, “This money is not for the Vedic Pundit’s jeevanam (livelihood). It is more a recognition of the service he has done to the Vedas and society. His family should be reminded of his vidwat and how it is cherished.”

Sadas convened

It became Annadurai Iyengar’s task to identify the beneficiaries. Sarabeswaran points out that the Acharya had in mind pundits, who lived in villages, where the clientele was limited and hence income much less. An announcement was given in the newspapers about the scheme and a sadas was convened at the Music Academy. This was attended by both prospective beneficiaries and those who could give information. A list of 2,000 was made of which 600 were accessible. Money was despatched to them, a practice that has continued.

The organisation with former Attorney-General K. Parasaran as Chairman, has flourished in the past three decades, thanks to the sustained efforts of the Trustees — Ram Santhanam, N.C. Sarabeswaran, J. Jayaraman, S. Mahalingam, Dr. V. Chandramouli, Sridhar Subasri, V. Shankar, T.S. Krishnamurthy, G.S. Kale, S. Sankaran and L. Sabaretnam. The honorarium has been increased to Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 1,250 respectively. Besides, scholars are honoured twice in a year — on Mahaswami’s Aradhana, January 8, and his Jayanti in May. Money that is surplus with the Trust is distributed among the scholars. A sum of Rs. 5,000 is sent to the family on the passing of a scholar. “This is done almost immediately so that the family members have the cash to conduct the obsequies for 13 days,” explains Sarabeswaran.

“At present, the Trust is supporting 150 scholars. The number is dwindling, but on the positive side the scholars get more money. Number does not matter,” says Sarabeswaran. “The Trust, however, is making intensive efforts to identify beneficiaries across the country. By middle of this year, we’ll come up with more people,” he adds.

A corpus fund was created to sustain the scheme. “But it is time to dismantle the corpus arrangement,” says Sarabeswaran. “Periyava never believed in hoarding money. The Trust will continue to campaign for donations and divide the money among the scholars,” he reveals. The Trust has put in place an accident insurance scheme, first of its kind. The process to bring all the beneficiaries under Mediclaim is almost through.

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